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Former FBI Agent: All Digital Communications Stored By US Gov't 621

Posted by timothy
from the and-soon-it-will-all-be-in-utah dept.
New submitter davesays writes "CNN anchors Erin Burnett and Carol Costello have interviewed Former FBI Counterterrorisim specialist Tim Clemente. In the interviews he asserts that all digital communications are recorded and stored. Clemente: 'No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.' 'All of that stuff' — meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on U.S. soil, with or without a search warrant — 'is being captured as we speak.' 'No digital communication is secure,' by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications — meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like — are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is."
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Former FBI Agent: All Digital Communications Stored By US Gov't

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  • Seems unlikely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by asmkm22 (1902712) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @06:56PM (#43637391)

    I'm sure what he's saying is true, in a very broad sense. Cell phone conversations, texts, and major/popular version of things like video chat (skype), IM (yahoo messenger), and general social media (facebook, twitter, etc).

    This guy seems to be implying that the government has some kind of man-in-middle technology that intercepts and records *all* traffic, which simply isn't true. Unfortunately, either he or the news agency is trying to paint the whole thing as just that.

  • Please! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:01PM (#43637409)

    Either this is true and so secret even most of law enforcement doesn't have access or it simply isn't true. Having run a large enough telecom operation to deal with CALEA I can say for sure that law enforcement very much needed our help to do anything with our customers' communications. Not only did they need to come to us with proper warrants in the first place, but they barely had enough technology sense to be able to do anything with it. Anything more complicated than taps and CDRs never even came up.

  • Citizen reply. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:01PM (#43637413)

    Clemente: 'No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.' 'All of that stuff' â" meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on U.S. soil, with or without a search warrant â" 'is being captured as we speak.' 'No digital communication is secure,' by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications â" meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like â" are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is."

    Dear US official;

    All of my communications are sent via encrypted proxy, and set to stream constantly. The proxy dumps into Tor and a half-dozen other networks. I originally did this for shits and giggles, to see how hard it would be. I will admit the latency is a bit higher than doing it locally, but it is very usable in spite of this. I also signed up for the Tor Cloud project and run an EC2 micro-instance to help others do the same.

    Originally, I just did this as an experiment, but after reading things like what you're saying and realizing that we've become a surveillance state on par with Iran, China, and North Korea (where did they get their filtering and monitoring hardware from again? Oh right: We gave it to them), I decided to keep it.

    I don't do anything special with my super duper encrypted "all the things" setup. I wish I could say I was some elite ninja hacker or something, but all I really do is browse internet forum sites and read the BBC news, and you know, download a few TV shows here and there. I'm one of those people that doesn't have anything to hide per-se, but when I live under the tyranny of a government that has turned their citizens into the enemy -- the attitude that we're all criminals or potential criminals, and must be monitored pre-emptively, I feel like it's my duty to frustrate the hell out of people like you.

    So I have been helping friends, family, and strangers, set their computers up the same way. Yeah, I know, some of them will probably use their newfound freedom and anonymity for evil, but frankly, even a terrorist attack a week and all the rantings in the world from you (that may even be justified) about how criminals can use this technology for their own nefarious purposes, doesn't deter me.

    You crossed a line; Morally, ethically, constitutionally. By criminalizing the average citizen, you have become a bigger danger than all the terrorists, all the "real" criminals. You are corrupt, dangerous, and seek to undermine our democratic way of life. You hide in the shadows and see conspiracies everywhere, and are convinced of your own righteous cause. You are as dangerous as a religious fundamentalist, because just like their dogmas, yours demands absolute purity. There will always be more justifications to invade the privacy of others.

    So I will continue to teach anyone who wants to, how to fight back against your tyranny. You're a threat to the way of life of not just myself, but my peers. You're a danger to all Americans -- you view us as the enemy. Your own people.

    You've lost your way.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:01PM (#43637415)
    It's also wrong. I worked for a regional non-Bell telco. We didn't capture anything that wasn't ordered by a court order, and even then, only the bare minumum to meet the court order.

    Maybe his statement should have instead been "the Bells, Verizon, and TWC capture all and forward it to the government." I've heard rumors of that related to AT&T, but never any confirmation. But to say "all" is simply false. Maybe they keep all they get, but I know for a fact they don't get "all".
  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CmdrEdem (2229572) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:06PM (#43637445) Homepage

    More than storage capacity, they need software and/or manpower to analyze everything. More likely his superiors just lied to his face about this or he was paid to say such things to make people think twice about doing any rebellious shit.

  • by BitterOak (537666) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:07PM (#43637449)

    We didn't capture anything that wasn't ordered by a court order, and even then, only the bare minumum to meet the court order.

    You didn't need to capture anything. According to him, the government was doing it for you. (Or rather, for them.)

  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:08PM (#43637457)
    Several years ago a friend of mine and I tried to work out what would be required to store all of the voice communications in the U.S., though I've since lost the spreadsheet I did the calculations on. We initially started off with Xbox Live! game chat, which we quickly determined could easily be archived by Microsoft with a (for them) fairly small bank of servers. We then went on to cell phones. It was hard to estimate, but using what we could find online it didn't seem too ridiculous that even with the most liberal estimates of voice data consumption, an entity with access to the streams could likely store all mobile voice communications. VoIP estimates were a lot harder as we couldn't find any real data on total usage, but we did learn that most copper wire has been eliminated and nearly all phone communications now are digital. Since this eliminates the (more expensive) need to covert audio to data, it is not impossible to do. Given the comparably lower price in storage since we went through that, I imagine that the cost of obtaining and storing all voice communications in the U.S., and all communications routed through the U.S., would be less than a rounding error in the DOD's budget.
  • by flayzernax (1060680) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:09PM (#43637467)

    Ahhh if only the government would be so kind as to freely back up all the classic usenet celebrity fakes of Gillian Anderson and provide them free of charge on the open internet as a public service. This world would be on the right path indeed.

  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flayzernax (1060680) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:14PM (#43637497)

    Well we already know they have the means to do keyword searches on a great deal of data. Carnivore has been debated openly before congress so I would definitely have to agree thats the minimum capability to expect.

  • Re:ps. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epyT-R (613989) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:24PM (#43637553)

    unless of course the freedoms that you want are verboten by that power..

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby AT comcast DOT net> on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:28PM (#43637581)

    I doubt this, not because I believe the goodness of the government as such, but because of the logistical impracticalities it would entail. Think of the sheer amount of storage, electricity, infrastructure, personal, computing resources and so on that you would need in order to perform this feat. The numbers would be boggling and would account for a significant portion of the worldwide sales of all hard drives, tape back ups etc, etc.

    You would then have to work with the absolute enormous amount of data in a usable manner which as anyone who has ever worked with very large data sets knows is easier said than done. When you have this much data it's a little more complicated than running a few SQL queries against a given person. The sheer volume of data would make this entirely unusable even if they could pull it altogether.

    You would also need personnel from IT types to human resources and so on. This would be one of the largest projects in the country and would have a noticeable impact on unemployment. Physically, where would you put this and get the electricity to run it all? Where would you get all the people with clearances? The logistical realities make this a non-event for domestic communications, it just isn't possible. I'm not even talking about the largest wholesale violation of the Constitution in history if this were true. Sorry, but this doesn't pass the sniff test.

  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by calzones (890942) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:31PM (#43637593)

    Not to assert one way or the other whether he's telling the truth, but...

    It's much more sensible to record everything and keep it for a short while and then begin a process of attrition. If everything is accessible for 1 hour, that's pretty powerful because you can freeze data after an event happens and look for what you need. After one hour, maybe only certain things and certain people are tracked for up to a day... then a week... a month... a year...

  • Re:Seems unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:33PM (#43637607)

    This guy seems to be implying that the government has some kind of man-in-middle technology that intercepts and records *all* traffic, which simply isn't true.

    The majority of the internet goes over telecom links. The few parts of it that don't, almost always have at least one hop that transits one of the major carriers networks. They don't have to monitor "all" traffic. They just have to monitor one of the hops in the chain.

    All IP traffic can be reduced to a stream. TCP/IP has some extra error-correction options to keep it all in order, but a stream is a stream nonetheless. And when you start looking at very large data sets, you're going to quickly discover that the majority of it is just a copy of another set of data.

    People here seem to think that monitoring all network traffic is unrealistic because of the storage considerations, but they don't have to store every byte; Just the unique bytes. If you download the CNN homepage, the storage application doesn't need to hold onto that entire transaction; It can just record the headers and timestamp, and then reference the same stream that a few hundred thousand other people also downloaded.

    Most of the internet's traffic isn't encrypted, and so the amount of entropy on it is low, despite the very high bandwidth. This statistical fact paired with shannon's laws, which in turn are based on the laws of thermodynamics, provide the basis of a practical surveillance solution.

    When you add in intelligent filtering, the amount of data to be stored drops even more. You probably don't need to worry about terrorists communicating via Netflix for example; And that makes up a significant chunk of internet traffic (look it up; it's a surprise).

    The other thing about intelligence assets is that they all have a 'use by' date. The more time goes by, the less valuable the data becomes. Eventually, you reach a point of diminishing returns; That is the point at which you can safely delete the data. It doesn't matter whether it contained terrorist communications or the next 9/11 or not... if you haven't found it by the cutoff time, it's worthless.

    Combine these attributes and what this man is saying is, in fact, achievable. Now... processing that data and turning into useful, timely, and accurate intelligence... that, people, is a whole 'nother can of worms. And realistically, where the bulk of the resources is going to be. Storage is a non-starter. Analysis is the bitch of it.

  • but but but (Score:2, Interesting)

    by coffee-breaks (2867847) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:34PM (#43637615)
    and here I thought USA was the country of "freedom and democracy" and was so much better than China??? Was I lied to then????
  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebike (68054) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:36PM (#43637635)

    So the guy is lying? Perhaps. Or just exaggerating. But I doubt there isn't more than one data center for this very purpose. The question is what kind of hardware would be necessary to compress all the data live.

    If he wasn't lying, he would be arrested for violation of his LIFE LONG NDA you sign when you take a job with the The FBI.

    So if he is picked up for tax evasion or some similar nonsense charge, then I'll start to believe him, but until then, I suspect he has a book he is peddling now or in the near future.

    People should remember just how terrible Americans are at keeping a secret. Someone would have leaked this long ago, just as the secret room at the AT&T switch center was leaked within a couple months.

    It wouldn't come from a lowly guy hyping a book.

  • by flayzernax (1060680) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:41PM (#43637667)

    They do have good off line secret installations. Where security is really important. I went to Ft Huachuca for computer security training and they did a fairly decent job for low level IT staff there. The instructors and some of the other people at that base genuinely knew what they were doing.

    DoD care a lot less about every day logistics systems for barracks assignments then they do about keeping under wraps their mission planning or god knows what else, I couldn't get anything out of anyone that mattered.

    I'm no longer serving. But you can rest assured there are some in the service that are good at what they do.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:43PM (#43637675)
    On what. I've seen the infrastructure. There were no unexpected splitters in the fiber. No unexplained connections in a router. If they tapped everything already, why did I have a dedicated CALEA box and such? It makes no sense, and is simply false.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:49PM (#43637707)

    Think of the sheer amount of storage, electricity, infrastructure, personal, computing resources and so on that you would need in order to perform this feat. The numbers would be boggling and would account for a significant portion of the worldwide sales of all hard drives, tape back ups etc, etc.

    Well, the internet was clocking about 21 exabytes per month in 2010. However, the overwhelming majority of that traffic is redundant; if you remove the redundancy in the data set and then compress it, you're probably looking at less than an exabyte of data over the public internet. You can reduce that further with whitelists; Traffic from Netflix, for example, is probably not going to contain super secret terrorist communications.

    So let's say you can cut that down to only record the most relevant 5%. That's about 1 exabyte. How much [storagemojo.com] would that cost? Well, in 2008, they guesstimated this to be about $400 million. A single stealth bomber costs about $2.1 billion [yahoo.com]; So the yearly storage costs of "the internet" is about 2 stealth bombers. -_-

    So at least as far as the data storage is concerned, I think it's well within the government's budget. Now, making that data usable and analysis of it... hooo boy... that's gonna be the bitch of it. But storage? Solved.

  • In 2007 we were using "A single NarusInsight machine can monitor traffic equal to the maximum capacity (10 Gbit/s) of around 39,000 256k DSL lines or 195,000 56k telephone modems. But, in practical terms, since individual internet connections are not continually filled to capacity, the 10 Gbit/s capacity of one NarusInsight installation enables it to monitor the combined traffic of several million broadband users.". The Wikipedia page doesn't seem to have any real updates since 2007. Of course traffic has increased since then, but I doubt they bother to store streaming video of Justin Bieber from YouTube - which is reputedly 98% of all bandwidth consumption apart from pron.

      What was the size of the LHC storage by the way? Oh, that's right, in 2010 it was "About 50PB of tape storage, handled by a set of robotic storage hardware. Still, they've been finding that disk storage is working well, and have scaled that up to 20PB worth of storage." http://arstechnica.com/science/2010/08/lhc-computing-grid-pushes-petabytes-of-data-beats-expectations/ [arstechnica.com]

    However the good news is that in 2011 "Our annual data consumption was estimated at 9.57 zettabytes" on the internet. A difference of 21-15=6 orders of magnitude. http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/07/our-annual-data-consumption-estimated-at-9-57-zettabytes-or-9-57/ [engadget.com] So unless NarusInsight can find and throw away a million times more Bieber than your snarky comments on Sub Reddit, "Revolutionary rodents against the government" they don't have that on disk yet, But they could probably record all telephone conversation.

    I seem to recall that rumor used to have it that only all calls in and out of the USA were monitored, it would not be at all surprising to find that the capability to monitor all internal calls were available. The only reason it might not be happening is that the transcontinental calls route through a finite set of fiber or satellite links, whereas call data on the internet in the USA could route through a very much higher set of nodes that would need to be monitored to capture the data.

  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @08:28PM (#43637927)

    "A switch room that contains a deep packet scanner is not the same thing as sending ALL internet traffic to a storage system. More likely it's just a tap."

    No, the public record is clear. It's not a "switch room", it's a splitter. And yes, the technical and expense implications of that have been debated and re-debated, re-hashed and triple-warmed-over.

    They are splitters. And they send ALL the digital data on fiber that enter those exchanges directly to government. No packet inspection (at those locations, anyway), and no "taps". Just a "Y" in the fibers.

    (Yes, I realize that technically it's quite a bit more complicated than that, because it involves amplifiers and lots of other things. This, too, was brought up in the court case. But that's what it is. It's in the public court records. Again: that's why the telcos were given immunity. Where were you when this was all going on?)

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @08:49PM (#43638027) Journal
    On the internet, 640 terabytes of data [intel.com] is transferred every minute. That means in a year, you have 330 exabytes of data. Not only that, you need the infrastructure to transfer it. You can deduplicate and stuff, but even deduplicating that much data is not exactly an afternoon hack.

    Think of that: you're adding 640 terabytes to your database every minute.
  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guttentag (313541) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @10:33PM (#43638655) Journal
    And Dell, who was the subject of today's slashdot story about Syria that mentioned Blue Coat in the summary [slashdot.org], is listed as a strategic partner on Blue Coat's [bluecoat.com] Web site and Narus's [narus.com] Web site.

    Narus

    For more than 26 years, Dell has empowered countries, communities, customers, and people everywhere with the right technologies to realize their dreams.

    Blue Coat

    Dell is a strategic reseller & global systems integrator for Blue Coat’s products. Blue Coat’s products are available through the Dell Software & Peripherals catalog for a variety of Secure Web Gateway, WAN Optimization & Visibility solutions.

    Dell's Sunnyvale offices are at 909 Hermosa Ct Sunnyvale, CA... not on the same street, but physically adjacent to Blue Coat's campus. Its building is about 40 feet from Blue Coat's... for Dell employees, it's a shorter walk to Blue Coat than it is to some of their own cars in the parking lot [google.com].

    Spelled out: Blue Coat and Dell work together to sell governments equipment to monitor their citizens' communications. And so do Narus and Dell.

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @10:48PM (#43638741) Journal

    This would require vast storage, incredible database crossreferencing, would imply certain kinds of information be available not only without warrants, but without ever needing to pull the original data. Not only would warrants be redundant, so would National Security Letters.

    No. Data taken from warrants and NSLs can be used in court and the FBI can admit they have it and not worry about giving away their capabilities by acting as if they have it. Data taken in a dragnet like this could only be used secretly.

    All without a single patriot in the government going public and blowing the lid off this, yet simultaneously putting this information in the hands of someone willing to shoot their mouth off on CNN.

    Except that it has been revealed. People just seem to keep forgetting, like they forget the Tuskeegee experiment, like they forget the Gulf of Tonkin "incident", or various other nasty things the government has done.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @10:50PM (#43638763)

    if you read James Bamford's books, you will begin to realize that most of the major US computer companies, from Cray to IBM, were propped up directly and secretly by the NSA to build supercomputers for it, secretly, years before the technology would reach the public.

    I don't need a book to know the government funds technology improvements; They freely admit [darpa.mil] it. It's not exactly super spy secret stuff -- they created the internet. It's a safe bet that they continue to work on similar things.

  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday May 06, 2013 @02:43AM (#43639661)

    Actually after reading through all of the discussion here it sounds to me much more plausible that the government might actually be trying to log everything off a few major backbones

    That's what I'd do.

    But I am certainly not qualified to go about telling anyone how to covertly access a computer system anonymously. Nor would I pretend that I could. That would require resources, mobility, knowledge, and access to things I don't have. Nor would I want to do any of that anyway. At least not to post what I do.

    Not really. All you need is a pringles can, a wifi card with an SMT connector, and a couple pieces of software. Anonymity and mobility is easy, and the knowledge isn't specialized.

    The problem isn't access, but entropy. The more you use a system, any system, the more ordered the access becomes; That is, before you access the system, you could say the entropic space to search to find your attempt is infinite, and with every interaction, the entropy reduces until eventually it reaches a threshold where the pattern becomes statistically unique. What most people don't realize... is how little time and interaction is required to reach that point.

    The more you use a system, the easier it becomes to tie that use to an identity. Via comparative analysis with other identities, it eventually becomes possible to link it to a specific person. What this means then, is that in essence, no matter what methods you use to access a given system, the mere act of accessing it, independently of anything else, decreases your anonymity. And the more access, the less anonymity.

    You can increase the complexity but you cannot prevent convergence to unity. Anonymity gradually drops to zero.

  • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrL0G1C (867445) on Monday May 06, 2013 @06:03AM (#43640313) Journal

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/storage/worlds-1st-exabyte-storage-system/1266 [zdnet.com]

    All US telephone conversations per day approx: 1.5 Petabytes

    Fits easily.

    Room for 2 years worth, or are you going to tell me US govt 3-letter agencies don't spend much on data centers.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON [wikipedia.org]

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